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Wednesday, Elul 24, 5781 / September 1, 2021


The two-day holiday of Rosh Hashana, which will usher in the New Year, 5782, will begin next Monday night, September 6.  It is customary that before Rosh Hashana we recite special Selichot services each day. Sephardic custom is to begin the Selichot services from Rosh Chodesh Elul, one full month before Rosh Hashana.   


Ashkenazi custom, in most years, is to begin the Selichot services on Shabbat night before Rosh Hashana.  However, this year when Rosh Hashana is on a Tuesday, and there is only two days from Shabbat till Rosh Hashana, we began the Selichot service this past Shabbat night. Thus, the Selichot services are recited this year for over a week.


In the Selichot service we pray for G-d’s forgiveness for our misdeeds of the outgoing year and for a blessed New Year. We don't ask for this as a reward for our good deeds, rather we say, "We come before You without good deeds; as poor and indigent we knock on your door [for charity]."


Q.  Why do we ask G-d to grant us whatever we need as a form of charity? It would make more sense to ask for all the good as a reward of our good deeds.  Instead of saying, "We come before You without good deeds," we should have mentioned all the good deeds we performed in the past year.


A.   The Magid of Dubna explains it with the following parable: A poor man desperately needed a coat for his son and himself for the winter months.  He went from door to door collecting money until he could afford one. He then went, together with his young son, to the store to buy the coat.


After choosing two coats, he told the shopkeeper his dire situation of poverty and begged the owner to give him the coats for free.  The kindhearted store owner had pity on him and agreed.  After taking the coats, he gave the owner the money he collected, thanked him, and left.


His young son was puzzled, "Father," he asked, "if you intended all along to pay the merchant for the coats, then why did you ask him to give it to you without charge?"


The father replied, "My son, I never intended to take the coats for free.  However, I was afraid that the money I collected was not enough to pay for the coats.  I asked him to be kind and give it to me for free.  Once he agreed to this, any amount of money which I offered him would be acceptable and he would be very happy, even if it wasn't the full price of the coats."


"The same is with us," explained the Magid.  "Can we honestly come before G-d and say that we have done enough mitzvot to warrant His kindness in return for what we have accomplished?”


Therefore, we ask for G-d's mercy and kindness, saying, "We come before You without good deeds; as poor and indigent we knock on your door [for charity]."  Only after G-d accepts our plea to grant us what we need because of His generosity, can our good deeds and mitzvot which we performed during the year, no matter how few they may be, carry added value to bring us more blessings in the New Year.